Syrian farmers able to grow again thanks to generosity of Calgary man
A cold, light drizzle falls on Ibrahim Al-Mofleh as he picks through the last remaining tomatoes and Armenian cucumbers in his field.
“This one is smaller,” he says, referencing a freshly-picked cucumber. “Some people eat this fresh, or you can pickle [it].”
The freezing September rain is just another reminder of how different the climate is in Canada compared to his homeland of Syria, where he made a living off the land.
“My father, my grandfather, my grand-grandfather… all my family farmer,” he said.
Al-Mofleh had to abandon his profession when escalating violence in his country claimed the lives of many of his family members. He fled with his wife and five children to Canada in February 2016.
“I am sad for my brother. He died [10 metres from] my home. My brother died in Syria, my mother died in Syria, another brother died in Syria. Why I live in Syria?”
As soon as he was settled in Calgary, he planted a garden to grow vegetables for his family. But it wasn’t until a local refugee assistance group put him in touch with Marty Trim that he was really able to farm again.
Trim is a retired plumber and businessman whose property east of Calgary held about six acres of land he wasn’t using. His work put him in contact with people all over the world. He learned that despite cultural differences, most humans want the same thing.
“We all love our families; we all love our kids. We want the best for them. Here’s what I’ve understood: give everybody a chance, and they’ll prove themselves,” Trim said.
That’s why he decided he would spend his retirement helping others. Through the Calgary Immigrant Support Society, Trim was connected with Al-Mofleh and another Syrian farmer, Mohammad Kanaan.
Trim offered six acres of his land, plus machinery and fuel, to help the two farmers grow an assortment of vegetables. While his background is in plumbing, Trim has dabbled in growing alfalfa and microgreens.
The trio started late in the year, and opted to farm using traditional Syrian methods and Egyptian seeds. Even so, they collected an impressive bounty of tomatoes that the men sold at local markets.
Trim says next year he’ll teach his new partners how to grow vegetables in a way better suited for the Canadian climate.
While the men exchanged knowledge of farming, Trim also worked to give them something else: the gift of language.
“The biggest thing I can give them is English,” Trim said.
“We eat together and everybody speaks English and everything is branded and you can’t go back to your old language. That’s the rule.”
He admits it was difficult in the beginning, but Al-Mofleh and Kanaan have already made significant progress.
“When I came, I can’t speak English,” Al-Mofleh said. “When anyone here told me anything, I don’t understand any word. Only, ‘Hi’ and ‘How are you?’”
“When I talk with Marty [now] about 50 to 60 per cent I am understanding.”
Sam Nammoura, a co-founder of the Calgary Immigrant Support Society, understands how difficult it can be to learn a new language and was blown away by how far the men have come.
“The best way to learn English is to interact with English speakers,” Nammoura said. “The whole purpose of this project was the interconnection and integration between newcomers and the local communities.”
“They refer to me as their brother now. We’re friends,” added Trim. “There doesn’t seem to be that barrier anymore. We’ve erased that.”
The retired plumber now wants to create a board of producers and businesses willing to help develop a program that can teach newcomers English while also learning Canadian farming techniques. He hopes he can help more people going forward.
“It’s time that I can make a tiny difference, maybe. Even if it’s just a few people every summer. But we invite anyone who wants to get involved to come and join us.”
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